Outside commentary: Bush jumps the shark

Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2007

President Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq has puzzled many pundits. Is the president stubborn, isolated, out of touch with reality? While all three might be true, there is another explanation. George W. Bush has been on television for the past six years, and like many TV shows entering a seventh season, Bush has jumped the shark.

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Wikipedia defines "jumping the shark" as "the tipping point at which a TV series is deemed to have passed its peak, or has introduced plot twists that are illogical in terms of everything that has preceded them." Three telltale signs:

-- Same character, different actor: For the first six seasons of the Bush administration, the character of the secretary of Defense was played by Donald Rumsfeld. Then, without warning (unless you count his preelection comment that Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic" job), Bush replaced him with former CIA chief Robert Gates. Like the producers of "Bewitched" (two Darrins) or "Roseanne" (two Beckys), Bush might have thought that if he made the casting switch with no explanation, the viewers wouldn't notice. Unfortunately for the president, the Rumsfeld-Gates switcheroo was the most jarring since "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (two Aunt Vivs).

-- New kid in town: Long-of-tooth TV series often resort to adding younger characters in the hope of breathing much-needed life into a moribund enterprise. Although this ploy almost never works, and the new characters usually wind up being reviled (Cousin Oliver on "The Brady Bunch," Stephanie on "All in the Family"), the decider in chief has ignored the lessons of television history and proposed adding not one but 21,500 new characters. Will the "surge" succeed where those other fresh faces didn't? I have just two words for you: Scrappy Doo.

-- Special guest star: A true sign of desperation is when a wheezing TV show with plunging ratings (in Bush's case, 30 percent) gives up on its regular cast altogether and tries to revive viewer interest by importing a guest star -- often a celebrity from the world of sports who has no plausible relationship to the series regulars. (Reggie Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali all turned up on "Diff'rent Strokes.") Those who harbored any lingering doubts about Bush's shark-jumping status surely became converts during his State of the Union address, when the president looked up into the gallery of the House and introduced, on national television, Dikembe Mutombo.

Now that it is clear that Bush has jumped the shark, one question remains: Have we seen the worst of the president's bizarre stunts and desperate Hail Marys, or are there more to come? On that front, the news is not good: This week marks the beginning of February sweeps.



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